As the visiting Dodgers celebrate their National League Divisional Series win on Thursday at Nationals Park, Bryce Harper and the Nationals are left to wonder what might have been.
The 2016 season was a joyride for the Washington Nationals and their fans. New manager Dusty Baker oversaw a squad that erased the bad feelings from the disappointing 2015 campaign by taking control of the National League East and finishing with the second best record in the Senior Circuit. In the end, however, the 2016 season ended in the same fashion that the 2012 and 2014 seasons did; with a bitter defeat in the post-season.
Here’s our post-season edition of “Nats by the Numbers”, powered as always by Baseball-Reference.com’s amazing Play Index.
Although he pitched effectively for the most part (particularly in Game Five), Max Scherzer saw his Nationals lose both games the Cy Young Award candidate started in the 2016 NLDS. During the regular season, the Nationals only had two times when the team lost back to back games started by Scherzer.
In April, Scherzer fell to the Marlins 5-1 in Miami in a game where he surrendered five runs in five innings pitched while recording a season low three strikeouts. Five days later at home against the Phillies, Scherzer picked up a no-decision while throwing six relatively effective innings (three runs allowed, seven strikeouts) but the team lost 4-3.
In June at San Diego, Scherzer struck out 10 Padres and allowed only one run but got a no decision when the bullpen imploded in a 7-3 Nats’ loss. Six days later in Milwaukee, the Brewers beat Scherzer and the Nationals by a 5-3 score.
The Nationals lost game one of the NLDS by a 4-3 score despite picking up nine walks in the contest. There have been only three nine inning games in LDS history where a team has lost while having nine or more walks in the contest.
You have to go all the way back to 2000 to find that last time it happened before the 2016 Dodgers-Nationals series opener. On October 3, 2000, the Atlanta Braves lost 7-5 to the St. Louis Cardinals despite getting nine free passes. One year earlier, the Cleveland Indians walked nine times but were trounced by the Boston Red Sox 23-7 in Game Four of the teams’ ALDS.
A point of emphasis for Nationals manager Dusty Baker when he took over the team’s reigns was to cut down on situations where Nationals’ batters failed to put balls in play. While some progress was made in that category during the regular season (the Nats struck out 92 fewer times in 2016 than they had in 2015), the problem came back to haunt the team in the post-season.
The Nats struck out 1o or more times in all five games of the 2016 NLDS, including 12 in the decisive game of the series on Thursday at Nationals Park. 15 of the team’s 63 strikeouts in the series came with runners in scoring position.
Chris Heisey’s dramatic seventh inning pinch-hit home run in Game Five was only the 25th pinch-hit home run in LDS history. Los Angeles’ Carlos Ruiz also had a pinch-hit home run in the series (in Game Three), making the series only one of two in LDS history that has included more than one pinch-hit home run. In a 2002 LDS match-up between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Dusty Baker-led San Francisco Giants, St. Louis’ J.D. Drew had a pinch-hit round tripper in Game One of the series, with teammate Eduardo Perez matching him with a pinch-hit homer in Game Two.
During the regular season, the Nats posted a 77% winning percentage in games where their starting pitchers threw 6.1 or more innings. In games where the starters threw six innings or fewer, the percentage dropped 34 points to 43%. The Nationals did not have a starter with more than six innings pitched in any of the NLDS games against Los Angeles.
Nats’ fans will be left to wonder what might have been had one of their team’s best hitters against left-handed pitching would have been available for the series against a heavily left-handed Dodger pitching staff.
In 103 at bats during the season, Wilson Ramos posted a .631 slugging percentage while hitting nine homers and driving in 23 runs. Ramos’ slugging percentage was the sixth highest in the Major Leagues for players with at least 100 at bats against left-handed pitchers.ten
159 down, three to go in 2016 the regular season for Jayson Werth and the Nationals, who look to wrap up the home-field advantage in the NLDS this weekend as they take on the Miami Marlins.
October is a day away, and the start of the National League Divisional Series begins one short week from now. With help from Baseball-Reference.Com’s amazing Play Index and with playoff baseball right around the corner, here’s another edition of “Nats by the Numbers” for what has turned out to be a very special 2016 season.
The casual baseball fans in this area may not have been familiar with Arizona’s Jean Segura before this week, but they certainly are now.
Segura was the driving force behind the Diamondbacks’ wins against the favored Nationals in the teams’ split of the four game series, and the infielder’s 1.474 OPS against Washington is the highest for any opposing hitter with 20 or more at bats on the year. Segura had 10 hits in 21 at bats with a double, three homers and four RBI against the Nats this year. Colorado’s D.J. LaMahieu was next at 1.435, followed by the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist (1.359), Segura’s teammate Yasmany Tomas (1.323) and San Diego’s Wil Myers (1.223).
No NL East opposing hitter is above the 1.000 mark so far, with Miami’s Derek Dietrich’s .988 OPS leading way among Washington’s divisional opponents.
After stealing only 57 bases in 2015, the Nationals have brought the stolen base back as a weapon in their arsenal in the 2016 season. The team’s 116 steals on the year ranks second in Nats’ history, only seven steals behind the 123 bags that were swiped by the 2006 Nationals. This year’s Nats have been more efficient in their steal attempts than the 2006 squad was, as they’ve been caught stealing only 39 times v.s. 62 failed attempts for the 2006 team. It is no coincidence that the 2006 and 2016 teams have the most stolen bases in Nats’ history. The link between the two teams is stolen base guru Davey Lopes, who coached first base for both squads.
Washington has five players who have double digit stolen base figures this year, tying the 2011 team for the most players with 10 or more steals in a season. Speedy rookie Trea Turner leads the way for the Nats with 29 followed by Bryce Harper (21), Ben Revere (14), Michael A. Taylor (13) and Anthony Rendon (12). Back in 2011, Ian Desmond led the way with 25 steals, with Jayson Werth (19), Roger Bernadina (17), Danny Espinosa (17) and Rick Ankiel (10) also posting double digit stolen base totals.
Anyone who follows the Nationals regularly knows that Jayson Werth is in many ways the heart and soul of the squad. Whether it is watching him lead the charge out of the dugout in last weekend’s squabble with the Pirates or seeing him grind out at bats in tough situations, it is easy to see that #28 is a driving force behind the Nats’ success.
This year’s division title brings to eight the number of times the veteran outfielder has been part of a division winning team in his 14 year Major League career. Werth was on the 2004 NL West winning Los Angeles Dodgers, played a major role in the Philadelphia Phillies’ four straight NL East crowns from 2007 through 2010 and has been a fixture on the Nats’ NL East champioship teams in three of the past five seasons.
Max Scherzer’s 277 strikeouts so far in 2016 not only set a career high for the National League Cy Young Award front-runner, but has also put him in very select company. Since 1961, only 22 other National League pitchers have recorded 277 or more strikeouts in a season. Clayton Kershaw had 301 strikeouts in 2015 but before that, Randy Johnson of Arizona was the last to do so with 290 back in 2004.
Scherzer’s feat is made more special by the fact that he has posted his total with the fewest innings pitched among the pitchers who have had 277 plus strikeouts in a season. Going into his last start on Sunday, Scherzer’s innings pitched total is 223.1. The next fewest innings pitched among players on the list is Kershaw’s 232.2 last season.
The low point of the past week for the Nats was seeing All-Star catcher and fan favorite Wilson Ramos leave Monday’s game with a season ending injury that may have ended his time in Washington. Ramos’ season ended on a sour note, but we should not sleep on the fact that we have witnessed a remarkable offensive season by someone playing at the game’s most demanding defensive position.
Since 1961, Ramos is only the 33rd player who played at least 80% of his games at catcher with more than 20 home runs, 80 RBI and a .300 plus batting average. The Buffalo hit 22 homers, drove in 80 runs and put up a .307 average in what was truly a special season.
Prior to Ramos’ special 2016 campaign the last catcher to reach these totals was San Francisco’s Buster Posey, who hit .336 with 24 homers and 103 RBI in a season where he won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.
Nationals’ third baseman Anthony Rendon makes everything look easy on the baseball diamond. Whether it is diving to make a great defensive play, hitting a home run with a batting stroke that is as smooth as silk or speeding around the bases with ease, Rendon’s top-level talent is evident.
This week, Rendon picked up his 500th hit with a clutch three run homer in Washington’s 4-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday and ended the Diamondbacks series with 503 career hits. Since his coming into the league in 2013, only 30 National Leaguers have more hits in that time period than Rendon.
Four players who either play, or have played, with Rendon are on the list. Teammate Jayson Werth with 504 hits is one ahead of Rendon, with Bryce Harper two ahead with 505 base knocks. Former top of the order mate Denard Span has the 17th highest total with 576 hits, and current teammate Daniel Murphy has the highest hit total in the National League since 2013 with a whopping 684.
Tanner Roark was money in the bank again for the Nationals last night, throwing eight shutout innings and leading the Nats to a 6-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park.
Nationals’ Record- 56-36
Nationals 6 Pirates 0
WP- Roark (9-5) LP- Cole (5-5)
HR- Rendon, Was (10)
STARS OF THE GAME
Third Star- Anthony Rendon was 2-4 with a homer and two RBI on the game. The Nats’ third sacker drove in the game’s first run in the bottom of the first with a RBI single, and hit a booming solo home run to left-center in the bottom of the fifth. It is interesting to note that the last 24 home runs hit by the right-handed hitting Rendon have come against right-handed pitchers. The last home run Rendon has hit against a southpaw came back on June 24, 2014 when he hit a round-tripper at Milwaukee off of Wil Smith.
Second Star- Dusty Baker has masterfully used the Nationals’ bench players and after Clint Robinson played a big role in Friday’s win, fellow bench man Stephen Drew was in the spotlight on Saturday. The versatile infielder went 3 for 4 with two runs scored as he filled in for All-Star Daniel Murphy at second base. All of Drew’s hits were doubles, marking the most two baggers he’s hit in a game in his career. Drew has an impressive .981 OPS in games played at Nationals Park this year, and his overall OPS of .892 is nothing to sneeze at.
Star of the Game- Tanner Roark is not the most flashy or most recognized member of the Nats’ pitching staff, but it is getting impossible to deny that his results make him one of its most effective hurlers. Roark earned his ninth win of the year with eight shutout innings, marking the 11th time he’s pitched seven or more shutout innings in his career. Only Gio Gonzalez (15) and Jordan Zimmermann (13) have had more such games in their time in Nats’ colors, and both have started many more games in Nats’ colors than Roark has (Zimmermann had 178 starts in DC, Gonzalez has taken the hill 140 times and Roark has started 67 times).
Valiant in Defeat- There wasn’t much to cheer about for fans from the Steel City, but they did get to see ultra-talented Andrew McCutchen go 2 for 4 to increase his lifetime OPS at Nationals Park to 1.020. Among opponents with 70 or more at bats at Nationals Park, McCutchen trails only Adrian Gonzalez of the Dodgers (1.078), Giancarlo Stanton of Miami (1.068) and Joey Votto of the Reds (.1.056) in career OPS.
Rendon’s home run gave the Nats seven players with at least 10 home runs so far this season. The most Nationals’ players with double digit home runs in a season was eight, set last season.
The shutout by the Nats’ staff last night was the 49th for the home team in Nationals Park history, and the sixth of the 2016 season. The most shutouts for the Nats at home in a season came in 2014, when Washington whitewashed opponents 12 times.
The Nats go for the three game sweep behind Max Scherzer this afternoon. Scherzer is 4-2 with a 3.09 ERA and a 12.4 SO/9 ratio against Pittsburgh lifetime. Josh Harrison has struggled mightily against the Nats’ fireballer in his career, going 0 for 12 with five strikeouts. Outfielder Matt Joyce has fared almost as poorly against Scherzer, going 2-20 with a home run and six strikeouts.
Pittsburgh sends young Delaware native Chad Kuhl to the mound and while Kuhl sports a rugged 6.08 ERA over his first three starts, the Pirates have won each of those games. Kuhl is 1-0 on the year, picking up a win in his Major League debut as he bettered Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers back on June 26th at PNC Park.
In recent years, trips to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park have been much more pleasant for the Nationals than they once were. These days, its the home team that is most often feeling the blues when the Nationals visit the City of Brotherly love. That was certainly the case last night when Washington ambushed Phillies’ starter Jeremy Hellickson for five first inning runs in route to an easy 9-1 win.
Nationals fans who have followed the team from the start remember the torture we went through when our team played the Atlanta Braves or Philadelphia Phillies in the team’s early years in DC. Heartbreaking late losses and devastating blowouts were experienced regularly at the hands of Washington’s NL East foes, but it looks now as though the bullied have become the bullies in these rivalries.
Following a four game sweep of the Braves earlier this week and a 9-1 rout of the home team at Citizens Bank Park last night, the Nats stand at 8-1 and have the best record in the Major Leagues.
The four game sweep of the hapless Braves at Nationals Park gave Washington 15 straight home victories over Atlanta, and a 19-5 mark against the Bravos since 2014. The series saw dominant pitching by the Nats against Atlanta’s less than powerful lineup, big home runs by Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth, Stephen Drew and Bryce Harper (his being a dramatic grand slam bomb for his 100th career round-tripper) and solid all-around play by a seeming revived Wilson Ramos as they overpowered the Braves in the sweep.
On Friday, the Nats won for the seventh time in their last eight games at Citizens Bank Park as they put a five spot on the Phils in the top of the first and never looked back on the way to a 9-1 win. Michael A. Taylor started the game off with a booming lead off homer, and former Phil Jayson Werth continued to torture his old team with a three run double to the deepest part of the ballpark to expand the lead to 4-0. After Danny Espinosa chipped in with a solid RBI single (his first hit since the second game of the season in Atlanta), the Nats were up 5-0 and on their way to their sixth straight win.
So far the Nats’ rotation has been spectacular, the team’s hitters are getting the big hit when they need it, the bullpen has been better than advertised and the Dusty Baker-led coaching staff is pushing all of the right buttons for the first place Nats. It’s early of course and the Braves/Phillies are among the National League’s least imposing teams, but signs are pointing to 2016 being a fun year in DC.
In 2015, the Nationals stole only 57 bases to rank 14th in the National League (ahead of only the league champion Mets). While the success of the Mets may minimize the importance of stolen bases to some extend, one watching the Nationals play station to station baseball in 2015 could easily have come to the conclusion that a few key steals here and there might have helped the team create additional scoring opportunities.
This season the Nats could have four players (Ben Revere, Michael A. Taylor, Trea Turner, Danny Espinosa) with elite speed in their lineup, with several others (Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy) also capable of swiping bases at times. Since the team’s inception in 2005, the Nationals have finished in the top half of National League teams in steals only four times in 11 seasons. Will this year’s squad make it five of 12?
New Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker is believed to be a proponent of increased usage of the stolen base, but his past teams’ records show that he has not always had the horses to put together a proficient running game. In his 20 years as a manager, Baker’s teams have stolen 100 or more bases only eight times (seven times with the Giants and once with the Cubs). Baker’s teams have also had lower than acceptable stolen base percentages (69% in 10 years with San Francisco, 69 % in four years with the Cubs and 68% in six seasons in Cincinnati).
The most effective Nationals’ squad in terms of stolen bases was the 2014 NL East champion team that stole 101 bases (Denard Span led the way with 31 steals, with Ian Desmond chipping in with 24) with a sterling 81% efficiency rating. In terms of outright steals, the 2006 team (led by Alfonso Soriano’s 41) had the most steals with 123 but had only a 66% success rate. The three other times Nats’ teams have had over 100 steals were in 2010 (110, 73% success rate), 2011 (106/74%) and 2012 (105/75%).
It will be interesting to see how the Nats use the steal in 2016. If Revere is able to stay healthy and get on base at his usual clip, it is easy to see him easily eclipsing Soriano’s team high total. And if Turner wins the shortstop job and is able to stay above water offensively, he could give the Nationals one of the top one-two punches in the league in terms of stolen base effectiveness.
There are differences of opinion as to the value of the steal. For a team like the Nats that has struggled to move runners at times, the tactic might give Washington’s offense a boost. While we shouldn’t expect the 2016 Nats to resemble the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals, one can assume that there will be more speed on display in Washington this season than there has been in the past.